Thursday, August 30, 2007

My First Wonky Post

Most people who read this blog know I'm a ridiculous policy wonk, all the more so when it comes to health care. Well, I'm going to make my first pharma-healthcare post, so feel free to skip if you are already glazing over. That being said, as the Economist put it (to paraphrase): 'what the 20th C was to physics (you know, the discovery of the atom, nuclear bomb, space etc.), the 21st C will be to biology'. (with the central premise that DNA really means very little, compared to RNA).

Sack-up, it's coming. The next generation will get 'risk reports' evaluating their lifetime potential of developing every major cancer and chronic disease known to mankind, and then will quantify each diet or lifestyle change that can quantitatively reduce your individual risk to develop any specific disease. Personalized medicine is here; Selzentry (Pfizer's new HIV drug, maraviroc, which my infectious-disease-specialist friend CS thinks is unimpressive) requires a genetic test to determine the eligibility of the specific mutation of your virus for the therapy. All right, technically that's not that personalized...but targeted.

Anyway, what got me started is this post here at a random blog. The CMPI (Center for Medicine in the Public Interest, great blog here at DrugWonks; not to be confused with those morons at Nader's Public Citizen, who have proclaimed doom on innumerable drugs which have subsequently proven their worth), originally sent me there through their blog.

In general, the blog summarizes a typical situation for americans dealing with their insurance companies. These are companies steeped in processes and bureaucracies, each instituted originally to pry 1% off a specific subgroup of customers, or limit costs from rare procedures, or limit customer interaction with out-of-network providers. In the end, they are comedically inefficient. See this article that originally started the blog I cited:

Imagine American healthcare spending as a dollar bill divided into 100 pennies. How many pennies do you think represent spending on prescription drugs? Sixty? Eighty? Wrong. The answer is 10.5. The other 89.5 represent everything else—from doctor visits and hospitalization to administrative charges and insurance.

WAYYYYY toooo much money is being spent in ALL healthcare systems (not just the US) on useless administrative fees. The NewsOverCoffee blog from Pennsylvania (cited above) notes a personal experience:
Most recently for service in May I got a bill in August for close to $7000.
  1. I called the doctors billing and was told it was rejected by my insurance.
  2. I called my insurance, Capitol Blue Cross, and was told they had no record. The doctor, whom we've had and been receiving treatment from for nine years, was in Philadelphia, though, and must first be submitted to Independence Blue Cross who forwards to Capitol Blue Cross. The woman at Capital took my information and said she'd call me back.
  3. Insurance investigates by calling Highmark Insurance.
  4. She called me back and said that Highmark and Independence joined and Highmark handles professionals. She called them and they told her that the doctor's office was waiting for me to provide information to them.
  5. I called the doctors' billing and explained what I was told.
  6. Doctors' billing called Highmark and was told it was rejected for more information by Highmark, who then never asked anyone for more information.
  7. The doctors office then called me and said they would walk Highmark through the code, happens all the time.
Previously we had a payment that went a year without being paid and on the very first phone call I had explained to Capitol what the problem was, but the customer service rep wouldn't believe me. A year later and several levels up we got it resolved and the problem was what I'd indicated in the beginning and the bill was paid in full.
This is intolerable. I would highlight the part played by administration costs in this article here (may have to register), from a doctor on the Medscape called "Breaking Even on 4 Visits a Day."

Essentially, this doctor came up with a novel practice concept, which I think perfectly illustrates how far away current systems (be they single-payer or fully private) have gone from providing true healthcare:
Seven years ago, I began exploring ways I could practice medicine without the hassles and pressures of managed care. I also wanted to find a way to reduce fees significantly for uninsured and underinsured patients.Here's how it works:
  • We charge our patients a flat rate for office visits. Currently, the fee is $45.
  • We do not file insurance; our patients pay at the time of their visit.
  • We do not sign contracts with insurance companies.
I call this the "Access Healthcare" model, after my practice's name. The model is based on the idea that by significantly reducing overhead and improving collections to nearly 100 percent, you can charge much lower fees, improve access for patients who might not otherwise be able to afford care, avoid excessive patient volume and still have a profitable practice. We've been practicing this way for more than five
years, and we are thriving.
Great plan. Seems like the plan any family doc would want. The article's well worth a read, but a few things jumped out at me, that I'd like to highlight along with the theme of this post:
Our overhead has been consistent at 25 percent of total revenue. That compares favorably to the typical practice's overhead of 40 percent to 60 percent of total revenue.
WHAT? AT TYPICAL PRACTICE'S OVERHEAD IS 40% to 60%!!! With all due respect to the incredibly smart doctors who own and work in these practices......WTF!!! Are you kidding me? This is why healthcare costs are so high! OVERHEAD! man.
Our charges average $82 per patient visit. This includes the $45 office visit fee and an average lab and supply charge of $37. We require our patients to pay their full balance at the time of service. As a result, our collection rate stands at better than 99.5 percent, and we have shed many of the costs associated with trying to collect unpaid balances.
Another telling statement. How many healthcare costs are associated with the convoluted multi-party nature of the payment system? Check this out:
With one staff person and two providers, our ratio of 0.5 staff per provider is considerably lower than the national average of 3.9 staff members per FTE provider
Oh man...I'm beginning to think that not only should economics be taught in high school, but maybe in med school too. This is utterly preposterous and untenable. I cannot fathom an economic rationale for four staff per provider. Check out what this guy has done though, in leveraging his cash-up-front advantage:
Lab companies are willing to negotiate lower lab rates with me because their payment from us is guaranteed, and they realize savings from not billing patients or insurance companies. Discounts may be as much as 50 percent to 90 percent off list price, meaning that a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test has cost me as little as $4. Other tests have cost even less. Most patients pay an average of $25 for lab tests that would have cost more than $100 if the lab company billed the patient or the insurance company directly.
Even taking his conservative number, he's saying that local labs will CUT HIM, A STOREFRONT 1-MAN PRACTICE, A 50% DEAL on tests because he does not present the administrative challenges of insurance companies. OMG. OMG.

Brilliant post from one of Andrew Sullivan's honeymoon replacements

My absolute favorite blogger in the world (and the favorite blogger of like 1 million people), Andrew Sullivan, recently got married and is away from his blog, however his guests have really stepped up to the plate. Check out this diatribe about Democrat cowardliness based on a Washington Post editorial. My favorite quote:
Dear God, Democrats: grow a spine. Figure out that if there's no principle for which you would willingly lose your office, then you don't deserve to hold it in the first place. The liberties enshrined in our Constitution matter more than your political careers.
my italics

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Real Word Sydney...looking interesting

So I just finished watching the real world sydney premiere, it was pretty interesting. First, the girls:

KellyAnne is the smoking hot brunette is is definitely a little crazy
Then there's a blonde who's already buddy-buddy with KellyAnne, her name's Trisha and is really a nice, classic valley girl air-headed blonde stereotype....bravo mtv.
There's one other blonde, Shauvon, she was pretty amusingly narcissistic, and long-winded which makes for great idiot quotes.
Then there's Parisa, who seems like the tomboy who revels in pissing off the valley girls, a perfect instigator for all sorts of bitchiness, cattiness, and hilariously petty feuds.


First, Cohutta, or something, which is a bizarre name. He is hard-core southern, from like deeeeep Miss. A unique character for the real world, I think he might join parisa to start some fun.
There's a shaved headed guy, Isaac, who was hard to read, other than he was the silent type with a crazy eye who's going to have to be placated every once and a while.
Lastly is a dude with the classic long-term gf, Dunbar. I cant tell it he's a tool yet, or if he's going to be the detached player-type who stirs things up.

all in all, looks like an excellent season to look forward too.

My bro, one why mascarpone is delicious

after he put his finger in the tub it came in:
", it's like 'what is your density?'" - JR
another great quote of the day, related to my posting of Miss Teen South Carolina, from the Newshole:
"Even in the gritty, dark world of beauty paegants, it was one for the ages. Lauren Caitlin Upton, Miss Teen South Carolina. Who long ago made the right choice. The contests with the tiaras. In lieu of, say, the national geography bee."

This guy has his whole material life online

It's amazing! And its catalogued by colour, size, material, use, usage amount, location, cost, and ownership. From perusing his life, its obvious he's a photographer (asides from the fact he took thousands of pretty good pictures) because he has about 14 of these:

plus gadgety stuff like this:Anyway, I'm guessing that this is him and his partner:

But I could definitely be wrong.

Anyway, its a bizarre scene, but I like it, I think its amazingly cool. When I found it earlier this afternoon I was blown friend ER was far less impressed. She was appalled. Why do I like it?

Mainly because it represents the unadulterated freedom of the internet.

Maybe also because I'm an unabashed contrarian. Many people would and will recoil in horror at the very concept of having the whole of their worldly possessions cataloged in intimate detail for everyone to peruse. I'm pretty sure I wouldn't do it, but that doesn't really hold me back from looking at the pictures in intimate detail. I mean, as I look at them, I try to puzzle out who this guy and his partner are, as human beings, but the more I try, the more I realize he's getting the last laugh.
Everyone is out there, right now, sifting through the material detritus of his life trying to understand him, or at least relate, or something. Their quest, and my quest, is ultimately futile. We can never even come close, with even this intimate a set of detailed miscellanea.

Pretty cool.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

"I Have a dream" anniversary

It was given 44 years ago today, by certainly one of the greatest English-language orators ever recorded. Right up there with Churchill, JFK, and MacArthur as my favorites. American Rhetoric has a full-length copy right here. Skip to the last half-cm or so if you dont want to hear it all.

Some of my personal favorites are just rhetorical flourishes or turns-of-phrase (I'm not sure if that should be hyphenated...I'm keeping it because it looks good) that exemplify MLK's oratorical genius. A few that don't get mentioned much are:

"but we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt"

"in the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred."

"we are not satisfied and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream"

I was pretty sure that I had heard Obama mention this last line in the speech announcing his candidacy, so I googled it. Well. Turns out that "justice roll down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream" is from Amos 5:24, in the good, old King James version of the bible (not so nice in other versions: "And roll on as waters doth judgment, And righteousness as a perennial stream"). I never even got to Obama.

Anyway, please listen, at least to the last 30 secs to 1 minutes of MLK's speech. It will give you chills. He rallies everyone, and then builds to a delirious crescendo: "Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"

Nice. Very nice. Still goose-bumpy here.

Bizarre Furor over Lucy, our Ancestor

So, check out this article, or this TIME one, about the first exhibit in a globetrotting 6-year voyage of the bones of Lucy, our 2.3 million year old ancestor. There appears to be some long-drawn out debate over whether its appropriate to be moving these kinds of objects around, or to exploit african countries, or something. I am a bit perplexed by the various arguments, having myself always been a fan of seeing the real thing myself. On one side is the renowned (but a little patronizing and batty) Richard Leakey:

"This iconic fossil is a unique biological specimen that should never be placed at risk: travel, packing, unpacking and handling exposes the skeleton to dangers that are unacceptable," says Leakey. "The decision to send Lucy on tour to the U.S. and perhaps elsewhere is to be deplored by any right-minded person."
"I definitely think that Lucy should not have been sent to America. ... Unique biological specimens and fossils such as Lucy are for science and should be retained in their country of origin,"
"Nobody will benefit from Lucy's tour apart from American museums, which are exploiting Africa's resources," he said.
This last bit is rich. According to TIME,
To borrow her, HMNS agreed to pay the Ethiopian government an undisclosed fee — estimates range from $300,000 to several million dollars — plus part of the proceeds from ticket and museum-store sales, money that the government has promised to Ethiopian museums. Ethiopian officials are also hoping that Americans who come to see Lucy in Houston or on tour might come to see Ethiopia too.
I fail to see how this is exploitative, especially since this is the fee for ONE museum, among presumably about half a dozen that will show these bones. I can see an argument (made by ECOH in the TIME article) that the money will just line the pockets of various Ethiopian officials and hardly benefit anyone. In addition, this last bit, about touting Ethiopia for tourism, will have to be synchronized with, you know, an actual campaign. So that will have to materialize. That being said, I think Leakey is out-to-lunch when he says this is exploitative. I object to a bunch of other things he said too. Saying that Lucy's tour should be "deplored by any right-minded person" is spitting in the face of any reasonable opposition. And to say that 'unique biologic specimens and fossils such as Lucy are for science and should be retained in their country of origin' is paradoxical, arrogant, narrow-minded, elitist, and frankly, bullshit. Especially Lucy. Especially Lucy.

First of all, I don't understand what the 'for science' part has to do with being retained in their country of origin, considering that regardless his opposition to Lucy's move, Leakey did at least acknowledge that the American museums are going to benefit from this tour. How is that not a benefit to science? I guess he would argue that keeping them in Ethiopia is better for science ....huh? Isn't Ethiopia a poor, corrupt country potentially at risk for the kind of instability that could destroy Lucy?

Oh....wait, what he actually means is that NOT keeping them where they are irrevocably harms the fossils. But haven't they already successfully carted papyrus Dead Sea scrolls and the First Emperor's terra cotta warriors all over the world?

Oh...wait, what he actually means is they should stay in Ethiopia, so that his poor african friends wont be exploited by the big, bad, swaggering White Museum Men from the West. (The funniest part of Leakey's evil 2nd-rate museum condescension is the hilarious paradox that these guys are all geeks and nerds in pop culture).

I think that the original discoverer of Lucy (who I originally thought was Leakey) Don Johanson, has this to say, which I think is an appropriate summation:
"While I cannot overemphasize my personal concerns for Lucy's safety, a broader exposure of Lucy to the public does have great educational value. Seeing the original Lucy will surely heighten public awareness of human origins studies, particularly at a time when the validity of evolution has come under fire in our schools."

More on gay Craig

Well....I was pretty quick to the punch with this guy yesterday, I'm proud, the blogosphere has GONE NUTS over it. The most interesting piece, however, is from the Idaho Statesman. The gay Senator's hometown paper has been all over his queerness for some time now, apparently:
Over five months, the Statesman examined rumors about Craig dating to his college days and his 1982 pre-emptive denial that he had sex with underage congressional pages.
This was all apparently instigated by some blog-directed accusations last year about Craig's sexuality, which apparently followed some from 1982, when he pre-emptively denied accusations of being gay, and then no-one accused him anyway. Oh the humor in the hypocrisy! Anyway, the Statesman apparently also ran down some interesting tales regarding Mr. Craig, and even has juicy bits from the transcript right here.

Catching up with ridiculous video

I posted on the china airlines crash last week here. I apparently missed some absolutely ridiculous video about it though...check it out, can you believe everyone on the plane survived!!! The image of the people sliding down that stupid chute is burnt in my retinas; I will never, ever, take the stewardess briefing lightly again (ok, maybe that's hyperbole, but I'll try not to). Meanwhile, some asshole customers are actually complaining that the flight crew gave unclear instructions...or something. Take a look at this video, then realize that ALL 157 PEOPLE ABOARD SURVIVED. HOW ON EARTH COULD THE FLIGHT CREW HAVE DONE BETTER? Perhaps if the stewardesses had served beverages after passengers deplaned off the chut?

Also interesting is that The Consumerist is reporting that it may have been caused by a loose bolt slamming into the gas tank.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Owen Wilson suicide attempt...the worst-case scenario

While it was sad to hear regardless, this post from my favorite gossip blogger makes owen wilson's hospitalization even worse. If it is an OD, is it really a potential career-ender though?


Wow, Vick's apology seems sincere:

I believe he should have a chance to play again...someday, after facing justice. See Keith Olbermann for more.

Hmmmm, so maybe the roads aren't falling apart after all?

Very interesting commentary here, about the state of the US infrastructure. As usual, it appears the initial panic over the bridge collapse in Minnesota was overblown, underlined by this gem:
as far back as April 1982, The Reader's Digest had an article entitled "Cures for America's Dying Highways". This concern led to a series of Federal acts over the subsequent 20 years that tried to help address safety and efficiency issues by providing additional funding for maintenance of roads and bridges
So its been a 'crisis' for a while. Well if you step back and think about the number of times you read a newspaper article about someone killed by faulty infrastructure, versus the number of times you read about someone killed by a drunk driver, head-on collision, or encounter with a lightpole, you quickly realize this is yet another societal overreaction. I think its probably because we are simply much more concerned when something we trust, something where its reliability underpins our everyday safety fails. While its nice for these stuffy old elitists to think rationally about issues such as highway safety, the fact remains that the average person knows bad drivers are a risk, and goes about his every day business knowing that fact. His world is deeply rocked, however, when the basic foundations of his everyday life (the trust he places in banal infrastructure), is shaken by events such as the bridge collapse.

Latest hilarity

Aboriginal art

Check out this cool aboriginal art from my friend SG:

From this gallery here.

Greece burning

Check out Firefighter Blog for the latest, but this is how bad the wildfires in Greece got:

UPDATE> JR says it looks like the Turks pillaged Greece. Ha.

Slate answers another question I had before I even asked it

As usual, Slate is right on top of the news and has answered a critical question for me about current events. Why was everyone so worked up about the fires in Greece getting close to Olympia? Aren't they just stone? Not so, says Slate, apparently fire can reduce them to dust.

Are all Republicans gay? Not that there's anything wrong with that

Yet another one, Senator Larry Craig from Idaho! Some gems from the undercover cop who arrested him for soliciting sex in a public bathroom:

I could hear several unknown persons in the restroom that appeared to use the restroom for its intended use. The presence of others did not seem to deter Craig as he moved his right foot so that it touched the side of my left foot which was within my stall area,” the report states.

Craig then proceeded to swipe his hand under the stall divider several times, and Karsnia noted in his report that “I could ... see Craig had a gold ring on his ring finger as his hand was on my side of the stall divider.”

Karsnia then held his police identification down by the floor so that Craig could see it.

“With my left hand near the floor, I pointed towards the exit. Craig responded, ‘No!’ I again pointed towards the exit. Craig exited the stall with his roller bags without flushing the toilet. ... Craig said he would not go. I told Craig that he was under arrest, he had to go, and that I didn’t want to make a scene. Craig then left the restroom.”

OMG that is funny. I'm still laughing. 'No!' And the smoothness of the cop to just flash his badge under the stall!

Anyway, I thought now would be a good time to nominate a second moment for my Favourite Seinfeld Moments:

Interesting development in Duke lacrosse case

The Duke lacrosse case essentially first introduced me to the blogging world, primarily through the amazing work of professor KC Johnson at his blog Durham-in-Wonderland. Well, straight from the good Professor KC comes this interesting development, the city of Durham had been holding an inquiry into the conduct of the police department during the Duke Lacrosse case.

Well, it turns out that the players' attorneys contacted the city to tell them to retain all documents, as there was a possibility of a civil suit. In turn, the city dutifully carried out the request, and also informed its insurance company, as required by the terms of its coverage agreement.

It appears from the City of Durham's official statement that the insurance company told the city not to investigate itself, because it might incriminate itself during the course of that investigation. The insurance company's letter:
further reminded the City of its contractual duties to cooperate under the provisions of the policy, which would include not engaging in activities that might compromise a subsequent defense of an action against the City.

Oh man, does that make me laugh!

Will it never end?

No, of course not, not until inauguration day 2009. Can you imagine the pardons we're going to get? Kenneth Lay and the rest of the Enron/World Com boys would be a given, I would think Libby too by then, perhaps Gonzalez once he is convicted of contempt of congress?

By 'it' I refer to cronyism, the most disgusting and dominating aspect of this sordid administration. Imagine, if you will, what a McCain government would have accomplished after 9/11 (the alternative, a Gore Presidency, is even rosier)...Afghanistan would've been smashed, and a deft coalition of concerned partners, perhaps even a roundtable of neighbors (including Iran, Pakistan, and China), could've been brought together to minimize the potential disruption and instability. No Iraq, of course, since that was the unique domain of Cheney and co. McCain was simply too much of a realist (in the political science sense of the term). Oh....the dreams. Anyway, I digress.

Anyway, the true legacy of Bush, is not, I think, the fall of the grand 'conservative' coalition that has been tossed around in many circles since Rove's resignation. It is not even this bizarre set of foreign adventures. It is simply a legacy of sheer, unadulterated, mind-numbing, jaw-dropping incompetence. To be sure, incompetence might have contributed to both above legacies, but I think it all started with incompetence. I never thought I would long for a principled, small-government, isolationist, tax-cutting least I can trust them to do what they claim they will do.

Where is MAR going with this rambling rant? Here. With the demise of one of the top 2 or 3 most egregious examples of nepotistic, cronysitic, myopic administration hiring practices (Gonzalez), the rumor is that Bush and co. have masterminded a new potential nominee for Most Nepostic and Cronyistic Bush Hire Ever.

Who is this Grand Master of Ass-Kissing you ask? Rumor is Clay Johnson III might be nominated as Homeland Security Secretary (I went to a private, elite, Southern university, and I am proud to know only one individual who is a III anything [although he is a pretty good guy]).

Let's take a look at this Clay Johnson III (he is currently Deputy Director for Management at the OMB). First sign of lip-puckering...this guy not only went to Yale with Bushie....he was in the same frat... and he even went to Andover too! He fawns over Bush in that interview, although he falls short of claiming the President ever was a decent student, or even interested in politics through college (how many leaders of democratically elected countries weren't into politics in college? Probably one -the US).

The man Bush wants to install as Homeland Security Secretary has absolutely no qualifications for the job...none at all. This is Harriet Myers all over again. Why do I say that? What kind of experience does he have? Well.....he is a businessman, with a masters in management from NYU's Sloan school, no direct shame in that. He's worked for:
  • Citicorp,
  • Frito's,
  • Wilson sporting goods,
  • and a mail order company.
Not too bad, but certainly nothing relevant. He's done some reasonable non-private sector work, is should give him credit there as well:
  • running the Dallas Museum of Art
  • teaching at the UT business school in Austin
  • serving as a board member for some charitable organizations.
Then of course, he has been climbing up the Sycophant/Crony/Old-frat-buddy-career track that has given us Gonzalez, Harriet Myers, that moron blonde from Liberty University who told congress she swore an oath to the President not the Constitution, and that idiot horseman who 'ran' FEMA during Katrina.

  • Deputy Director for Management at the OMB - read: in charge of keeping everyone in-line with Bush Party Line and generally politicizing the OMB
  • Assistant to the President for Presidential Personnel - read: in charge of keeping everyone in-line with Bush Party Line and making sure new hires are sufficiently sycophantic
  • Executive Director of Busch-Cheney Transition - read: in charge of keeping everyone in-line with Bush Party Line during Transition and making sure new hires are sufficiently sycophantic
  • Gubernatorial Chief of Staff - I don't know enough about his governorship to slam this, but it can't have been illustrious
So....can anyone tell me what in that CV possibly qualifies this man for Homeland Security Secretary? Someone with law enforcement experience?...or maybe someone with an in-depth knowledge of the country's infrastructure? expert in counter-terrorism?...a life-long bureaucrat with experience navigating Washington's notorious red tape and back rooms? Even a truck driver with transportation-industry experience? Does he have any of these?

Oh!!! I've got it. Clay Johnson III is qualified to be the man primarily responsible with securing the United States against another terrorist attack.....because he once worked at a mail order company and therefore has in-depth knowledge on how to counter nefarious Jihadist plans involving the mail system! oh wait, his experience was back pre-internet, you know....when people actually used the mail. oh wait, the anthrax mail-terrorism was home-grown, not islamist. Well, there aren't many of Bush's frat brothers left by now, are there?

Today's sign of the apocalypse

This is a true gem, brought to us today from Miss Teen South Carolina.

This is my single favorite segment "I believe that's because some people out there in our nation don't have maps, and I believe that our such as in South Africa, the Iraq, and everywhere like, such as."

What? WTF!!!

Oh favorite part is "the Iraq"....even a dumb southern blonde doesnt know the fucking country is IRAQ. Even daddy swilling beer on the couch and watching NASCAR knows the war is in Iraq...not 'the Iraq.'

Hat Tip: DG

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Changing my mind about screwtops

So for a couple of years I have rejoiced in the rise of the screwtop wine bottle, mainly because I love when 'traditional' elitist methods become exposed as a bunch of crap. I was under the mistaken impression that corks had recently been exposed as actually worsening the quality of wine, or perhaps inhibiting good aging. As usual, it turns out the situation is much more complicated....luckily TIME has straightened me out here.

Essentially, it seems that cork quality has been going down for some time, leading to variability in quality of wine and also leading to a certain small % of wine being lost each year due to spoiling caused by bad corks. Hence this recent move towards aluminum caps. However...while I thought this would be a nice narrative that would jive with my anti-elitist (or maybe just anti-French) opinions on this issue, there is a whole sustainable development angle to this as well:
Today, the survival of cultivated cork forests, many of which are on private land, depends on their worth. If nobody is buying cork, landowners will use the farmland for something else. Enter the conservationists. As wineries began ramping up experimentation with new closures, WWF launched a program in 2004 encouraging consumers to "choose cork" to protect the forests, the biodiversity they support and the thousands of rural jobs they create.
What I like about reading about this program, however, is that it is finally consumer-centric, market-oriented conservationism, rather than regulatory tightening. Check it out.

Jon Stewart goes off - and doesnt get many laughs

Brilliant, bittingly sarcastic, and I think a little angry summary of US foreign policy in the middle east...

My favorite line "Oh, billions of dollars, is there no dispute you can't settle?" In general his point is all too true, why exactly do we need someone with foreign policy experience screwing things up over the past 50 years? The knock on Obama is all the more unfair because the one important foreign policy decision on which he could weigh in (the Iraq war), he has been famously, and consistently, right.

OMG the nazis are funny

Check this one out. My favorite line: "Hans.....are we the baddies?"

Top Seinfeld Moments

I've gone a little youtube happy this morning, and I'm thinking of doing regular posts on top seinfeld moments. Without further ado, here is a selection of the best from the Merv Griffin show episode, a classic in my view (clip from real Merv Griffin show). I love how into it Kramer gets. "Yeah, we're talking this way". But the actual 'moment' nomination is when George comes in, and Kramer starts playing the theme music, and then asks him the wrong question ("So you and Jerry dated for a while, what was that like?....Wrong card").

It kills me every time. One infinitesimal complaint, however. There are two Seinfeld Kramer incidents where he plays a theme music (the other being on the Kramer bus tour), and for comedic effect, Larry David et al. include on the tape a voice saying `turn music off`. While I love it, and laugh every time, I am nonetheless struck by the fact that no tape would ever have that on it, for it defeats the entire purpose! As a cue to a sound operator, it is a blunt instrument that advertises to the entire audience the behind-the-scenes audio workings, which doesnt seem to me to be desirable. As a joke, its fucking hilarious.

Laugh starters

A classic from Tobias:

This one's appalling

I dont know the details behind this, but this is really ridiculous. In an effort to mitigate bad press over a crashed plane, China Airlines painted over the logo on its plane.

And now it thinks this isn't bad press? Who are the morons behind this?

Who wouldn't click on this link?

Astronomers find enormous hole in the universe:

Friday, August 24, 2007

More on the electoral college

Slate has a good piece up about the electoral college and that new BS initiative in California by Maryland State Senator Jamie Raskin. Interesting in general, and makes a good three points about what's wrong with the current system:

First, it betrays the principle of majority rule, threatening every four years to deliver the White House to the popular-vote loser. Second, it reduces the general election contest to a matter of what happens in Ohio, Florida, and a handful of other swing states, leaving most Americans (who live in forsaken "red" and "blue" states) on the sidelines. This in turn depresses turnout and helps give us one of the worst rates of voter participation on earth. Third, because of its proven pliability, the Electoral College invites partisan operatives, legislators, secretaries of state and even Supreme Court justices to engage in constant strategic mischief and manipulation at the state level.

What I found interesting in the article, however, is what's called the 'national popular vote plan', whereby the states create an interstate compact and agree to award their electoral college votes to the winner of the national popular vote. Several states have passed it already, and after all, the Constitution specifically gives this freedom, in Article II Section I: "Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors..." (my italics, obviously).

The current system is arbitrary, accident-prone, and increasingly untenable. On that I can agree with the Republicans who back the California initiative. What I cannot accept is that a more convoluted system, undertaken by a single state for transparently political reasons, is the solution. It is time for the American people to elect the president directly and democratically.

Here, here.

Russia's going to hell

But at least they provide entertainment.

Japanese Tourism

Good piece in the Informed Reader here, on why Japan attracts so few tourists.
The original BusinessWeek article, and Pollack, seem to buy the claim that its

partly because with an export-driven economy, the country has invested far
less in its tourism infrastructure than many other nations

While potentially true, I think that Japan has invested far less in tourism infrastructure because they dont care. Japan, in my view, has always been one of the most xenophobic and racist cultures in the world, and my impression is that the Japanese dont really want foreigners to come and visit.

Obviously this is inflammatory, and a broad painting of an entire people. I dont claim to imply that this applies to individuals, only to the country as a whole (we are talking macro-level here).

iPhone coming to a country near you?

Finally it appears that Apple and AT&T's unwise bid at a monopoly over iPhone use has been undermined. A 17-year old new Jersey kid, collaborating with 4 online strangers, figured out how to unlock his iPhone and is now using it on T-Mobile:
George Hotz, 17, confirmed Friday that he had unlocked an iPhone and was using it on T-Mobile’s network, the only major U.S. carrier apart from AT&T that is compatible with the iPhone’s cellular technology. While the possibility of switching from AT&T to T-Mobile may not be a major development for U.S. consumers, it opens up the iPhone for use on the networks of overseas carriers.

In a classic collaborative open-source screw-the-corporation mindset, Hotz made a video of how to crack your phone and posted it on his blog.

Since the details are public, it seems likely that a small industry may spring
up to buy U.S. iPhones, unlock them and send them overseas.
“That’s exactly, like, what I don’t want,” Hotz said. “I don’t want people making money off this.”He said he wished he could make the instructions simpler, so users
could modify the phones themselves.“But that’s the simplest I could make them,” Hotz said.

Amusing, always amusing, to see an individual (minor no less!) stick their finger in the eye of big corporations. Especially because I think the Apple-AT&T agreement was fundamentally a bad move for Apple (it is the exact opposite of Web2.0 and the entire collaborative ethos that Apple is trying to foster).

Couple of questions....what exactly is the legal agreement covering iPhone use with AT&T? If the terms of use that comes with the iPhone specifically prohibits you from using the device with any provider other than AT&T, this will have no impact on US dynamics, only in international markets.

However, what could be interesting is that AT&T may be forced to compete (the horror!). Considering that the vast majority of complaints since iPhone launch have been about AT&T (see this story about a $4k bill), this could be good for everyone (except AT&T).

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Hilarious banned commercial:

Ridiculous person alert

Via Tracy at FRAUDfiles comes this hilarious story.

A guy got convicted for voting twice in the 2006 elections. The kicker, however, is that he tried to defend himself by saying he forgot!!!! Most commentators have neatly dissembled this argument, and I think I'm prepared to take it as given that he deliberately voted twice. In an era when far less than half of the electoral body actually votes, shouldn't we be lauding someone who tried to vote twice?

Or maybe just expelling them from the gene pool.

Why I shouldn't be rejoicing at Britney and Lohan's misery

because it can get much, much worse. Lainey's right that:

It is heartbreaking. And decidedly different from the almost absurd, circus-like scandal surrounding the Britneys and the Lilos.
Amy’s situation is so much more… authentic.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Household fingerprint locks are here

Yet another sign of the rapidly approaching future:

Splitting electoral votes...moronic

Ridiculous piece mentioned by my favorite polisci blog here. California is thinking of splitting its Electoral College votes by congressional district! As is pointed out, the flaw:
is the fact that the congressional districts in most states have been gerrymandered and usually in a way that radically over-represents one of the two parties–this is certainly the case in California, where a large number of the districts are “safe” for either the Democrats or the Republicans.
I agree with Dr. Taylor, the Electoral college is outdated, fundamentally patronizing at the outset, and distorting of the people's will. The most insidious effect, however, is the fact that a Democratic vote in Texas (as Dr. Taylor put it), or a Republican vote in California, is essentially only symbolic. I think that the Electoral College has contributed to the United States' low voting rates by devaluing the act of voting. The futility of voting for a congressman in a gerrymandered district or a president in a one-colour state has fundamentally eroded the confidence of the average American in his/her ballot.

The insidious bioidentical hormone scam

I'm not sure if anyone's ever heard of bioidentical hormones, but apparently Suzane Somers has been touting them for some time, even on the Larry King show.

I read an interesting piece in the magazine skeptic today, that brought this insane situation to the fore. The article notes that the Women's Health Initiative (WHI) study, which initially raised concerns about hormone therapy, has been:
misrepresented and misinterpreted. Media reports gave the impression that HRT was killing women. Not so. Over 10,000 person-years, women on estrogen plus progestin had 7 more coronary events, 8 more strokes, 8 more pulmonary emboli, and 8 more invasive breast cancers than women who didn’t take hormones; but they also had 6 fewer colorectal cancers and 5 fewer hip fractures, and the same number of deaths overall.

So women weren’t dying because of HRT, but they were increasing their risk of some diseases while reducing their risk of others. Overall the risks exceeded the benefits. Current recommendations are to use HRT for a limited time only to control menopausal symptoms, and not to use it for disease prevention. Most of us think these recommendations will be altered in the future as we learn more about risk factors and genetic susceptibility. Meanwhile, we try to individualize advice: your doctor is more likely to recommend HRT if you are at very low risk of cardiovascular disease and at high risk of osteoporosis or colorectal cancer.
The problem with estrogen, or any hormone therapy, is that the hormones hit all of the hormone receptors in the body. The problem is that some hormone receptors (notably in the bone, gut, and vagina), react positively from a therapeutic point of view, while others (notably heart, vascular system, and breast) could create serious problems. These are all estrogen how do bioidentical hormone advocates claim that their hormones will only activate the good hormone receptors but not the bad? They cant. This is complicated by the fact that:
there are lots of different estrogenic compounds found in the body, including estriol, estradiol and estrone. Nothing we do is likely to replace all the estrogenic compounds in exactly the way they occur in the body.
Ok, so basically its a complex situation, the human body isn't simple. I think everyone can understand that. The hormone drugs that were studied in WHI were Premarin and Provera, and they are now dosed at much lower amounts and for shorter periods as a result of WHI (gynecologists love them, by the way, laughing at the overly wary nature of other specialties). However, some bioidentical advocates preposterously claim that:
Premarin and Provera, the drugs studied in the WHI study, are artificial and harmful, while bioidentical hormones are natural and harmless.
(for evidence of this claim, see here)

Why, you ask, is it preposterous to claim that natural, wonderful, lovely hormones are not as they seem? Well, bioidentical doesnt really mean anything scientifically, but it has become a catchy moniker for this 'new wave' hormone therapy that nicely jives with popular culture going green. But the golden nugget, the truly awesome part, is that bioidenticals are synthesized in a laboratory....from plants!

Again I feel a confusion from my 4 readers...plants are surely a natural source of estrogen, why would I mock them? Well, the answer lies in Premarin's name.

You see, pharmaceutical companies are laughably terrible at coming up with names. Premarin is simply a contraction of 'pregnant mare's urine'. Yes my readers, Premarin is simply condensed, purified urine from a pregnant member of the equine species, a mammal. It contains 30 different estrogenic compounds...seems to me a hell of a lot more natural than estrogen produced in plant cells under laboratory conditions.

Perhaps Suzanne Somers and the rest of these morons are working from an alternative evolutionary tree than everyone else?

Is this going too far? or is this justice?

An unusual case, that's for sure.

A Philadelphia-area DA has not ruled out pressing murder charges against William J. Barnes after the coroner ruled the death of a 64-year old stemmed from complications of a shooting....41 years ago. The somewhat ridiculous story can be found here.

I guess I have to defer to professional judgement here, but it seems extremely dubious to me that anyone can possibly draw a connection between a shooting 41 years ago and a death today. There is one particular exception, however. I think if the bullet remained in the victim, then there is potential for the bullet's subsequent movement around the body to cause further damage. If perhaps the bullet had lodged itself in his spine (probable since the man had become a paraplegic), then perhaps his death could have been caused by the bullet nicking the axon of a crucial neuron. Or maybe it compressed a coronary artery and caused a blood clot.

Regardless, you also get to an interesting double jeopardy question. The article is not clear, but if Barnes had served time for attempted murder then maybe you could say he could not be convicted of a contradictory crime (under the argument that he couldn't have committed the murder since he had already been convicted of failing to commit the murder).

This is it

I'm starting. No grandiose explanations of purpose or any of that bs.

First cool thing...jet art.
Check it out here.